One of the best things that can happen to a social entrepreneur is to have the right book fall in your lap at the right time.
Recently, I was fortunate to have The New How: Creating Business Solutions through Collaborative Strategy placed in my hands by the author herself. On a chance visit to Montreal in the depths of winter, Nilofer Merchant lit up a small group of tech entrepreneurs. Her message to the group: If you want to be successful innovators and lead motivated teams, then pay as much attention to how your strategies are created and implemented as to the form they ultimately take.
Nilofer Merchant’s presentation in Montreal and her book have drawn me into a deep meditation on the how of social innovation precisely at the moment when I need to be focusing on it. The New How has helped me acknowledge that the strategy creation processes I have overseen in the past have been inconsistent – at times demonstrating highly collaborative traits (with great results) and at other times resembling what Nilofer Merchant calls, the Chief of Answers syndrome.
The Chief of Answers is someone who arbitrarily directs his or her team in a new direction without first consulting those who are tasked with implementing it and those who the strategy is meant to serve. From experience, I know that when the Chief of Answers has made cameo appearances in the projects I work on, the results have been less than stellar.
In developing strategies, I have lacked a framework with which to consistently create collaborative and high-impact strategies. Fortunately, it’s this framework that represents the biggest gift in Merchant’s The New How. The author lays out a wonderfully methodical and (in theory) simple-to-implement process to help organizations surface break-through ideas from their team, avoid obvious pitfalls, and cultivate co-ownership of new strategies from the start.
Merchant’s argument in favor of strategy creation in full partnership with team members, suppliers, and consumers is driven by the most basic of capitalist motivations: to win markets. In this way, it contrasts starkly with the rationale for collaboration that I have championed in the past, namely to advance the sector as a whole. Considering the important role that collaboration can play in both commercial ventures and social ventures, we should all be paying much closer attention to how organizations create their impact and not just how much impact they create. The chances are that our sector’s high-impact organizations are already operating within The New How paradigm.
To facilitate this realignment of focus, I encourage funders, board members, and fellow social entrepreneurs pick up Nilofer Merchant’s The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy. While ordering online isn’t the same as having the author put a copy in your hands, it’s a close second and is sure to introduce new ways of thinking and responding to some of the more difficult challenges you and your team may be confronting.